Novak Djokovic: The elephant in the room, the press conference and the question of character

The hall where it took place in Belgrade was packed with dozens of journalists, what appeared to be all of Novak Djokovic’s extended family and a rather superfluous collection of tennis trophies arranged at one end of the top table. And yet, despite all this mess, despite all the reporters, there was still room for an elephant to be present.

Court documents confirm that the focal point of Djokovic’s argument that he has the legal right to stay in Australia is his granting of a vaccine exemption after contracting Covid on December 16.

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Since this detail came to light at the end of last week, we therefore have, unnecessarily, several photos of Djokovic attending numerous events, including one with children, in Belgrade in the days that followed. It seems to go to the heart of one of the most important considerations: the character of Djokovic.

Defending champion Djokovic lifted the 2021 Australian Open trophy on February 21, 2021. (Photo by TPN / Getty Images)

Selfish is the description that is hard to avoid using. He’s up for anything, including risking the health of others, it seems, to be on the pitch in Melbourne next week to defend his Australian Open title and all the personal glory and more. wealth that accompanies obtaining a 21st record. snap. Talk about vanity.

We know we’re meant to celebrate an athlete’s determination and will to win, but to use the words of the original tennis superrate, you can’t be serious!

And yet, it looks like he’s serious. His family is serious as well, with his father, Srdjan, becoming the first to proclaim that the court victory in Melbourne – funny how those words now take on a whole different meaning – was his greatest triumph (applause). They want us to believe that he has already lifted his 21st Grand Slam.

Of course, even this request is still pending. In an ever-evolving saga that has even included Nigel Farage appearing on the snowy streets of Belgrade dressed as a villain from an Indiana Jones movie (funny one set to appear in an era of heightened Serbian nationalism), we know anything can. still happen. Australian Immigration Minister Alex Hawke is still able to cancel Djokovic’s visa for one thing, effectively forcing him to leave Australia. He is still at risk of being banned from the country for three years. Now 34, that would surely confirm that he has already won the last of his nine Australian Open titles.

Serbian tennis player Novak Djokovic (LR) uncle Goran, mother Dijana, father Srdjan and brother Djordje hold a press conference in Belgrade. (Photo by PEDJA MILOSAVLJEVIC / AFP via Getty Images)

In the meantime, it continues as if it was a normal countdown to another grand slam. He was there hitting balls at the Rod Laver Arena minutes after the press conference ended – at the insistence of his lookalike brother Djordje – back in his homeland.

The world number 1 appears to be employing a tactic to normalize his presence there and make it more difficult for authorities to kick him out. He tries to stick to a routine as much as possible – or at least as much as anyone can after spending several days locked in a hotel that also functions as a detention center for migrants and while being pursued by the authorities .

He’s only doing his job after all, which was one of his family’s selling points. Another is that he “fights for freedom of choice” (more applause). Well, who is it, freedom fighter or lowly tennis player?

It was difficult to answer this question after watching his family’s press conference. They had clearly decided – on perhaps wrong PR advice, perhaps from the dreaded Farage – to adopt a largely triumphant tone. It is a day of “celebration”, intoned his brother.

Fans of Serbian tennis star Novak Djokovic celebrate in front of the Rialto building which is said to be where he stood before the Australian Open in Melbourne, Australia on Monday, January 10, 2022 (AP Photo / Hamish Blair)

Novak, he added, was “an honest and exceptional man” who “defended human rights”. The tone became a little more solemn when the brothers’ mother Dijana claimed that Djokovic had been the victim of “torture” and “harassment” and that there were even “times when he did not have his cell phone. with him “.

It was all well and good. It was a glimpse, perhaps slightly hysterical, of what had happened behind closed doors in Melbourne. But that was what the family wanted to tell us, often repeated over and over again. This is probably one of the reasons the BBC and Sky chose to end the live transmission earlier, cutting off the translation service.

Stubborn viewers might persist through the internet. When questions were allowed from the room they seemed of the soft lob type, until one reporter, who looked Australian, managed to ask the question that almost everyone watching in the world was surely willing when asked: “Is it true that the 16th?” December, he tested positive and he knew he was positive for Covid…?

Djordje shifts slightly uncomfortably in his seat. “Yes, the whole process was public and all documents that are public are legal …” he replied.

Andy Murray responded to Nigel Farage, who previously tweeted from Belgrade with the Djokovic family.

A journalist intervenes: “Was he at an event on December 17th…?

At this point, the proceedings are quickly adjourned by Djokovic’s younger brother. The family file taken out of the room having initially represented a rapid burst of the Serbian national anthem.

“I love you more and more every year, the love story continues,” a victorious Djokovic told crowds in Melbourne last year as he held the trophy in his hand. Those feelings are unlikely to be mutual in the equally unlikely event that he is still in the country early next week.

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